Singapore City Harvest megachurch leaders guilty of fraud

(L-R) former City Harvest Church investment committee member Chew Eng Han and chairman John Lam, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, founder and senior pastor Kong Hee and former finance managers Serina Wee and Sharon Tan arriving at the state court in Singapore (21 Oct 2015) Image copyright EPA
Image caption The court ruled the weight of evidence against the six showed they had acted dishonestly

Six leaders of a huge Singaporean church have been convicted of fraud in a case worth S$50m ($35m; £23m).

The judge ruled City Harvest Church's pastor, Kong Hee, and others used church finances to fund the music career of his wife, Sun Ho, or falsified accounts to cover it up.

The defendants had argued Ms Ho's pop music career was a way of reaching out to non-Christians.

They have been bailed until sentencing, but could face up to life in jail.

Sun Ho herself is not accused of wrongdoing.

Failed pop career with a high price - Tessa Wong, BBC News, Singapore

The scandal is the biggest corruption case squeaky-clean Singapore has seen in years. From racy music videos to a convoluted money trail, the case has riveted Singaporeans.

City Harvest Church was founded by Kong Hee, charismatic pastor, and his wife, pastor-turned-pop singer Sun Ho, in 1989.

Known for its slick image and wealth-focused brand of Christianity, it has grown rapidly and is now estimated to have at least 30,000 members in Singapore and others elsewhere.

The charges related to the church leadership's attempts to boost Ms Ho's music career worldwide, which ultimately failed. She had been touted as a demure "singing pastor" in Asia, cutting several Mandarin singles - but they only had modest success.

Read more: Inside Singapore's City Harvest megachurch scandal

City Harvest - considered a megachurch - is one of Singapore's wealthiest evangelical churches, with an estimated 30,000 members in Singapore and 15 services every weekend.

It says it has 48 affiliates in countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Taiwan, Brunei and Australia.

In a statement posted on the church's website, Ms Ho said they were "disappointed by the outcome" and the six were taking further legal advice.

She thanked church members for their "unwavering faithfulness in loving God and loving one another" and called for "a unity that is unbreakable".

As the six leaders appeared in court, the church tweeted messages asking for supporters' prayers.

Image copyright @chcsg

'Weight of evidence'

Prosecutors said the misuse of funds happened between 2007 and 2008.

The six leaders and financial staff were accused of funnelling $24m Singaporean dollars from a building fund into fake investments, which were then used in a project to use Ms Ho's music for evangelism. Prosecutors said another S$26m was spent covering up the investments.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The church has said it was using Ms Ho's (centre) music career to reach non-Christians

The defendants all maintained that they did nothing wrong.

But Judge See Kee Oon said the background facts of the case were "largely undisputed" and that the "weight of evidence shows they were acting dishonestly".

Kong and a former church committee member John Lam were found guilty of three charges of criminal breach of trust.

Senior Pastor Tan Ye Peng, committee member Chew Eng Han and two former finance managers, Serina Wee and Sharon Tan, were each convicted of several charges of criminal breach of trust and and falsifying accounts.

Ms Ho, who was in court to support her husband, launched her music career in 2002. She has several albums in Mandarin to her name and is known in China and Taiwan.

She has also worked with US music industry figures such as songwriter Diane Warren and rapper Wyclef Jean, who produced her English album.

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